Object Individuation in Infancy: The Use of Featural Information in Reasoning about Occlusion Events

Teresa Wilcox, Renee Baillargeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Recent findings by Xu and Carey (1996) indicate that, after seeing two distinct objects (e.g., a duck and a ball) emerge on the opposite sides of a screen, 10-month-olds show no surprise when the screen is removed to reveal one (e.g., a duck) as opposed to two objects (e.g., a duck and a ball). The authors took their results to mean that 10-month-olds are unable to use featural information to individuate objects. The present research examined a different interpretation of the results. This interpretation was based on a distinction between event mapping, in which infants see a sequence of two distinct events and judge whether the two are consistent, and event monitoring, in which infants see a single event and judge whether successive portions of the event are consistent. The present research contrasted infants' performances in event-mapping tasks in which they saw first an occlusion and then a no-occlusion situation (as in Xu & Carey) and in event-monitoring tasks in which they saw only an occlusion situation. It was hypothesized that infants would be more likely to give evidence of correct individuation when tested with the event-monitoring as opposed to the event-mapping tasks. Eight experiments were conducted with infants ages 7.5 to 11.5 months. These experiments yielded two main findings. First, when tested with an event-monitoring task, even 7.5-month-olds give evidence that they can use featural information to individuate the objects involved in an occlusion event. Second, when tested with an event-mapping task, even 9.5-month-olds give evidence that they can use featural information to interpret an occlusion event as long as the event is made extremely simple. These findings give weight to the distinction between event mapping and monitoring and more generally begin to shed light on the fundamental processes involved in infants' formation and use of event representations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-155
Number of pages59
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1998


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence

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